August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

The best way to train your dog is by using humane methods that focus on rewarding dogs for good behavior. This builds a healthy relationship, inspires trust and can boost your dog's confidence. Here are few ways to train without pain or fear.

Life Rewards and Praise

  • Use life rewards to keep training fun and consistent in your dog's everyday life. Life rewards can be toys, activities, food, access to furniture or beds, affection, and verbal praise.
  • Examples include asking your dog to "sit" before putting their leash on to go for a walk, having your dog "sit" instead of jumping before petting, or asking your dog to "down" and then petting (if your dog enjoys petting) and praising heavily.
  • Gradually reduce the treat rewards once a behavior or cue has become reliable, but always give your dog positive feedback through verbal praise.
  • Food is often the most motivating and practical way to reward your dog for learning. Once a cue is taught and is reliable, using life rewards is a great way to reward your dog without food.

Reward Markers

  • A reward marker is a word or sound that marks the instant that the dog does the right behavior. A clicker, whistle or verbal marker of "yes" can be used, immediately followed by a reward. Yummy treats tend to be the easiest to use, but toys, activities, affection and praise can be used as well.
  • First you need to 'charge' the reward marker to make it meaningful to your dog. Start by clicking or saying "yes," and then immediately delivering a treat. Repeat the word or sound 20 times and treat. Within a few minutes your dog will be anticipating a treat after the click or "yes." Then move on to some basic training cues. More information about clicker training

Training Methods


  • "Capturing" is rewarding good behavior as it happens. Have treats ready and remember your reward marker. Wait for your dog to do something you like, click or say "yes," and treat.
  • For example, sit in a chair and wait for your dog to sit. When they do, mark and treat. Pretty soon your dog will start sitting and looking to you for the marker and treat.


  • "Luring" is using a treat or toy to guide a dog into a position or behavior you want to teach.
  • For example, when teaching "sit," hold a treat above but near a dog's nose. Slowly raise your hand up and over your dogs head. The dog will follow the treat with their head. When their rear end hits the floor in a sit, click or say "yes" and give them the treat. After 8-10 successful repetitions, do the hand motion without the treat in hand; after the click or "yes," deliver the treat from your other hand. After additional 8-10 successful repetitions, you can say the word "sit" before doing the hand motion, marking and treating. After a few sessions your dog will know a hand signal and a verbal cue for "sit."


  • "Shaping is when you break down a behavior or position you would like to teach into small steps or approximations of the final behavior.
  • For example, you can teach your dog to pick up an object. First, put the object on the ground. When they go near it to sniff, mark the behavior and give them a treat. After a few repetitions, wait for your dog to do a bit more than sniff before you mark, such as opening their mouth on the object. Mark and treat. After a few repetitions, wait until they put their mouth on it and close their mouth. Continue to shape the behavior until your dog is picking up the toy.